Opinion: State should not increase Pioneer Home rates

Legislation to block rate increases ran out of time in Senate

The Dunleavy administration has brought unprecedented threats to Alaska Seniors. From Senior Benefits to Medicaid health insurance, the governor has put elders in the crosshairs. Fortunately, legislators are working together to defend Alaska’s Pioneer and Veteran Homes from the governor’s attacks.

The Dept. of Health and Social Services has proposed massive rate increases for Pioneer Home residents. His proposal would more than double rates for many residents. According to the non-partisan Division of Legislative Finance, proposed rate increases are so steep most residents will not be able to pay the new rates.

To block these rate increases, I introduced House Bill 96 along with Representatives Shaw, Ortiz, Josephson, Foster, Sponholz, Tuck, LeDoux, Story, Drummond and Hannan. House Bill 96 would block the administration’s rate increases, and link future rate increases to inflation. This would keep the Pioneer Homes affordable and provide stability and predictability for both residents and the Pioneer Homes’ hardworking staff.

House Bill 96 passed the House 35-4. I am very grateful to Representatives Laddie Shaw, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Tammie Wilson, Neal Foster, Tiffany Zulkosky, Ivy Sponholz, and Chuck Kopp for helping move this bill through the committee process and to the House floor.

Unfortunately, the Senate did not have time to take up this legislation and pass it before adjournment on May 15. As a result, Pioneer Home residents are at risk that the Dept. of Health and Social Services could raise rates in the summer. Rep. Laddie Shaw and I wrote to the department and urged Commissioner Crum not to raise rates above levels in HB 96, considering the strong support the bill has in the legislature.

I hope this bill passes the Senate early next year. Senators Begich, Kawasaki, Wielechowski, Olson and Gray-Jackson have already signed on as sponsors. Alaskans have built and sustained the Pioneer Home system since the first home was established in Sitka in 1913. Let’s keep the Pioneer Homes operating and affordable for another hundred years by passing HB 96 through the Senate, now that it has passed the House.

Zack Fields represents Anchorage House District 20, which includes the Anchorage Pioneer Home.